Last preseason, the New England Patriots were riding high. They had added a few marquee free agents and were considered a favorite to win the AFC, if not the Super Bowl.
We all saw what happened there.
This preseason, however, things feel a little different.
“Completely different,” Boston Globe Patriots reporter Ben Volin said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “You have a bunch of injuries, so several players from last year’s Super Bowl team aren’t practicing that much right now – guys like Dont’a Hightower, Brandon LaFell, Jerod Mayo – and even more are sitting out the games. Julian Edelman’s been banged up. They’re not letting Gronk participate much – or at all – in the preseason games. So it’s just a strange feel. It’s a bunch of backups and it’s not the familiar faces. Darrelle Revis is gone now. Vince Wilfork is gone. And then obviously there’s this lawsuit looming over the team. They don’t know if Tom Brady’s going to sit out four games or one game or zero games. So it’s almost like camp is a secondary thing for the Patriots this year. They’re really just trying to get healthy and get ready for the regular season because right now we’re just seeing a lot of new faces and a lot of guys who the Patriots hope they don’t really have to use this year.”
Jimmy Garoppolo may or may not be one of those guys. The second-year quarterback out of Eastern Illinois could be thrust into the starting job if Brady is suspended. The 23-year-old was a little shaky in his first preseason game against the Packers, but he was a solid 28-of-33 for 269 yards, one touchdown and one interception in a 26-24 road win over the Saints this past Saturday.
“I think Jimmy Garoppolo has shown in two preseasons – more than Ryan Mallett ever did or Brian Hoyer – I think Garoppolo is showing at minimum that he belongs in the NFL,” Voli said. “Obviously the second game against the Saints, you really have to like his decision-making. He’s very decisive about where to go with the football and completed 28 of 33 passes. That’s exactly what you want to see. That’s the most important aspect of the Patriots’ offense: Take the check-down and keep the chains moving and the ball moving. And for Garoppolo to go 28-of-33 is very good.
“One thing we haven’t seen from him yet is pushing the ball down the field, though,” Volin continued. “Like 25 of his passes were within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. He’s not really pushing the ball downfield yet. You’d like to see him take some bigger chances and get some more of those chunk yards maybe in lieu of completion percentage. But he looks pretty good and you also have to consider that this is preseason. He’s playing with 2s and 3s, no Rob Gronkowski of course, playing against 2s and 3s. Against the Saints, (he was facing) . . . a pretty standard four-man rush. Not seeing a lot of complicated things that the Jets and the Bills and these teams are going to be throwing at him this year.
“So Garoppolo is showing he belongs, no question, but I’m not ready to get on the hype train either. If he has to play four games, the Patriots are going to have to really protect him and game-plan him to just kind of manage the game and win the game on turnovers and defense and field goals.”